Scot McKnight, an award-winning author, blogger, Two Handed Warrior contributor, and professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL, has written extensively about women in the church, discipleship and the Christian life. Several chapters of his book, Blue Parakeet, are devoted to examining the biblical support for women in leadership. Additionally, his most recent book One.Life looks at what it looks like to live a life devoted to pursuing Jesus and kingdom living.
Here, David Kinnaman and McKnight take a look at the recent Barna research on Christian women today, particularly women’s levels of satisfaction within the church. Whatever your own take on women’s roles in the Church today, Scot offers compelling perspectives on the research.
Five Questions on Women in Leadership with Scot McKnight
Q: You have written quite a bit in your book Blue Parakeet and in other places about women in church leadership. After you looked through some of the Barna research on What Women Think of Leadership and Their Role in the Churchreleased last week—on how women feel about their role in church—what were one or two things that struck you most?
A: Some of us have been working hard for the church to recognize the call of God to teach for women. Our struggle for women creates friendships with fellow strugglers, nearly all women. The struggle and the friendships suggest things are not so cheery in the church as the Barna numbers of this recent study show. I have no access to satisfaction studies of women when it comes to leadership, so I admit this study led me to ponder—rather quickly, and early the day the Barna notice arrived in my e-mail—the results. My own immediate conclusion was that women being satisfied really ought not to surprise. The majority of “attenders” and even more “active participants” in a local church are women, and this must indicate women are more satisfied with church than are men. So, I embrace that number as telling an accurate story of church life today. (I would like to know what percentage of males are satisfied, too.)
But I would like to press into the number that 73% are satisfied. I wonder if this is high enough. And I also wonder if some of those 73% could be more satisfied if their church both taught about women in ministry from a more expansive viewpoint and permitted women to—and here is where the whole issue lies for me—preach from the pulpit on Sunday mornings.
Now let’s consider the number from a different angle. What percentage of males in a church are satisfied? And even more importantly: What percentage of males in a church are called into pulpit preaching and theological teaching? I don’t think that number is very high; let’s say less than 5% of males are called into public teaching. So I wonder if the 27% of females who are not satisfied means there is a larger number of dissatisfied females who think they are called to teach/preach than dissatisfied males who think they are called to teach/preach.
Q: One thing we noticed was the different reactions to the research from inside and outside the church. While many Christians reacted with “Well, those numbers aren’t bad, most women are happy in church and with the roles they have.” The outside reaction (for example, this article by Hemant Mehta and this article in Washington Post) has been more of “How do any women feel as if they can’t be leaders in the church?”). How would you respond to both of those reactions?
A: Numbers are numbers for me. If the Barna number is accurate, then it gives us some factual knowledge about women and churches. Anyone who learns to reason on the basis of evidence instead of ideology or theology should embrace the facts.
Some who criticize are deciding for others what ought to make them satisfied. In Blue Parakeet and on my blog for years I have stated that I think a mutualist view of marriage and male-female relations in the church is the most biblically-faithful way to live out the gospel and the Bible in our world. But I have plenty of friends who are complementarians, some of them Christians and some of them not at all Christian, and I do not remonstrate [argue with] with them about their wrongness (in my view). When it comes to love and relationships, and when it comes to church and women, we have to approach others respectfully.
So, in marriage, my contention is that we let people love one another the way it is best for them. When it comes to Christian marriage we strive for a love based on the example of Christ and what the Bible teaches about God’s covenant love, which counters our cultural stance(s). In the church, we have genuine differences and I will defend the right of the complementarian to win the argument in his [their] church as I will also ask them to defend the right of the mutualist to win the argument in [their] church. But I admit to tiring when I hear those most committed to civil tolerance bash and trash those who differ with them, when they ought to respect the views of others.
Q: In our research, the vast majority of women say they believe they can be leaders in any role in church (and they also believe their church thinks this), but from experience you know this isn’t true. So, where’s the disconnect? Why do you think women believe this when it isn’t always true?
A: I don’t know what to make of this. “Any role” might already be defined as “roles appropriate for women,” and my own reading of that number in the Barna study immediately led to that conclusion. I could be wrong. So, perhaps another question to ask is this: What roles in your church can women play? So on the “My Church Does Not Allow Women To…,” I’d like to see another category: “Preach from the pulpit on Sunday morning.”
And, if I may push on this one, I’m not always sure what “leader” means: One might understand that to mean “I can be the leader I want to be because I want to be the leader of women’s Bible study.”
On this one I’d like to see a follow-up survey that asks questions connected to more traditional terms in the church: Can women be “elders” or “senior pastor” or “preach from the pulpit on Sunday mornings” (on a usual basis)?
But, again, numbers are numbers. The majority of women are satisfied with what they can do in their local church. I have no desire to disrupt that satisfaction. Instead, I want to be an advocate for women who believe they are called to teach the Bible and are restricted by their local church.
Q: Where do you see the church needing to connect more intentionally—or perhaps in a more challenging way—with women?
A: In some ways I believe we are selling women short by not educating the church about the expansive ministries available to women. The call of God does not respect ethnicity, class or gender/sex. God calls whom God wants, and this is seen throughout the Bible—from Deborah and Huldah to Mary, mother of Jesus, and to Priscilla and Junia. Furthermore, there are stories of women who are rarely told—Esther and Ruth being prominent examples. Time after time I asked students in my classes at a Christian college, students who grew up in churches, who some women were in the Bible—like Phoebe—and they had never heard of them.
So I believe churches need to re-commit to the women of the Bible and to do this we need churches across the globe teaching the passages about women in the Bible.
Then we need to tell stories about women in the church, women whose stories have not been told because male preachers and teachers have naturally gravitated toward stories of males. We hear plenty about Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Wesley, Billy Graham and rarely hear about women like Mary Bethune or Phoebe Palmer. Pastors and preachers and teachers and parents need to commit to reviving the stories of women whose stories have been neglected. This does not require a mutualist posture on women in ministry; it requires only the sacred recognition that God’s women have stories that need to be told.
Q: As you’ve observed the research we put out , are you encouraged or discouraged about what it says in terms of the state of Christian women today?
A: My first response is that I’m more informed. I’m also thinking we can sharpen the tool to ask some more precise questions that might shed more light.
But the overall conclusion is that in your survey field you find the conclusion that nearly 75% of women are satisfied with their church. That’s something to celebrate; any study that shows church folks are satisfied is news for much of the media today, so I’m glad for this.
This study showed to me again how few are actually called into the “ministry” as traditionally defined—so that the one-quarter or so who are not satisfied will reflect a variety of reasons, not necessarily because they want to exercise their perceived gift of teaching and preaching. The debate in churches over who gets to preach—males or both males and females—is a debate about a small percentage of actual males and females.
What this also shows to me is that we have to commit ourselves to focusing on what matters most: God—Father, Son and Spirit. The gospel, or the Story of Jesus—lived, died, raised, exalted and coming again—as the one true saving Story. Who preaches on Sunday morning matters, but Who gets preached matters even more.
Reflections on the Relaunch of Two Handed Warriors
Dear Two Handed Warrior Community,
When Sue and I first launched Two Handed Warriors eight months ago we never could have imagined how many people would connect with our theme. All we had was a deep conviction that an unnecessary dichotomy between faith and culture has plagues both the quality of life and overall effectiveness of an entire generation of leaders.
Leaders adept at culture-making—whether in Hollywood or the Ivy League—are rarely trained in the disciplines of faith-building; whereas leaders with strengths in faith-building—whether in a local congregation or an international relief agency–are rarely trained in the art of culture-making.
It is a dichotomy that not only creates glaring blind spots in our leadership (and personal lives), it also robs us of a vibrant conversation with other leaders from whom we have the most to learn.
We launched Two Handed Warriors in hopes that it would inspire an ongoing conversation among educators, filmmakers, business and spiritual leaders devoted to gaining expertise in BOTH faith-building and culture-making. Our hope was that (in time) such a conversation might help birth a movement of intellectuals, artists, leaders, and philanthropists who could redefine faith and culture for an entire generation.
Our hunch was that such a movement of experts in such diverse fields could be unified by developing a common “school of thought” centered on a deeper understanding of “the stories we live by” at the deepest level of our societal and personal worldviews. Or at least that story was one place where filmmakers and college professors, musicians and CEOs, scientists and pastors could meet as equals and develop a common language for tackling the reintegration of faith and culture in their own lives and in the organizations they lead.
On the one hand, THW has exceeded our wildest dreams. Readership has outstripped anything Sue and I could have imagined. On the other hand, THW still has a long way to go in fostering the kind of conversation we envisioned.
Toward that end we are going to try a few new strategies in this next year.
First, we’ll be hosting a series of face-to-face conversations among key leaders in variety of settings–Entertainment, Education, Ministry, etc.–to help better understand the unique issues facing leaders in each setting and (Lord willing) foster the kind of relationships required for a deeper ongoing conversation. (The next step will be cross-pollination meetings between leaders in different contexts.)
Second, we are going to accept some graciously offered help in upping our social media game. These experts tell us that we are seriously under utilizing Twitter and Facebook and have a very time-consuming email system. Please be patient with us as we try new things and let us now if they are helpful (or not). The goal is to build community, not annoy people.
Third, we are officially asking for help. We need to solidify our team of writers, editors, photographers, graphic designers, event planners, administrators, etc. If you have the time and talent we have the need. We’ve got some exciting new pieces and projects in the works, but with my sabbatical coming to an end, we need HELP bringing the website to print and peer group gatherings to reality!
Finally, we want to say thank you to everyone who helped get us this far. We never would have made it without the generous help of so many dear friends. We’d like to give special thanks to Margaret Feinberg, Scot McKnight, Mike Friesen, Dale Kuehne, Dave Schmelzer, Lem Usita, Cheryl McKay Price, Cathleen Falsani, Lauren Hunter, Dean Batali, Sheryl Anderson, Phil and Kathleen Cooke, Erik Lokkesmoe, Jessica Rieder, Michael Warren, Monica Macer, Kurt Schemper, Kevin Chesley, Korey Scott Pollard, John David Ware, Jenn Gotzon, Chris Armstrong, Ashley Arielle, Adam Caress, Dennis Ingolfsland, David Kinnaman, Jay Barnes, Ralph Enloe, McCoy Tyner, Chris Fletcher, Neal and Laurie Barton, Todd Burns, Chris Easterly, Jeremy Story, Bret McCracken, Brian Bird, Ken Minkema, Rich Gathro, Peter Kapsner, Ray and Wendy Hanson, Craig Case, David McFadzean, Dallas Willard, Chuck Swindoll, John Ortberg, Tim and Char Savaloja, Lisa Whittle, Michael Hyatt, Randy Elrod, Ian Collings, Ken Stewart, Dale Schlafer, Dave Warn, Jeremy Story, Mark Russell, Amy Larson, Ben and Rochelle, Jake and Erin, Mario and Kathy, Bill Diggins, Brent Kanyok, Carol Shell Harris, Dave Warn, Doug Clark, Kelly Erickson, Drason Anderson, Keri Lowe, Scott Smith, Steve and Diane Dunkle , John and Laurie Bruns, Wes Wilmer, Wesley Tullis, William Bergeron, René Delgado, Stanley D. Williams, Shun Lee Fong, Jaeson Ma, Jim and Karen Covell, Rodney Stark, Dean Smith, Amanda Llewellyn, Bren and Melissa Smith, Kait Stratton, Ron Jesberg, Brent Kanyok, Randy Elrod, Deborah Arca Mooney, Libby Slate, Jack Gilbert, David Medders, Gabe Lyons and the entire Q Ideas team.
May your tribe increase!
Please let us know if you’re sensing a calling to pitch in.
10 things we can learn from one of Christianity’s biggest controversies.
Finally someone has written what I think is the ultimate wrap up of the Rob Bell “Love Wins” controversy. Not surprised that it is biblical scholar, best-selling author, award-winning blogger, and friend, Scott McKnight. Enjoy!
Everyone knew in advance that Rob Bell’s next book, Love Wins, would surely raise eyebrows and create some debate. But no one, including the author and his agent, expected what did happen. From the momentJustin Taylor uttered that opening warning and John Piper tweeted “Farewell Rob Bell” until many of us had a week or two to read it, Rob Bell’s book was at the forefront of American Christianity’s sensational tabloids. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it may well be a one-of-a-kind brouhaha for the next generation or two.
But what can we learn from what happened? I want to suggest we can learn 10 lessons.
First, social media is where controversial ideas will be both explored and judged. We no longer read books patiently, type out letters to denominational offices, find common agreements and then summon the Christian leader behind closed doors to ask questions and sort out concerns. It’s all public, it’s all immediate and everyone weighs in because social media is about as radical a form of democracy as exists. To be sure, this means the uninformed heavy-handed can weigh in as easily as the patient, careful, critical and balanced reader. But social media is not going away, so we should realize what we are getting into before we walk into the room.
Second, megachurch pastors are being watched closely. “Who says what” has always mattered. But because of social media, the who-says-what takes on new significance: megachurch pastors—and this applies to Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Andy Stanley and Rob Bell—are being watched, and their critics only need one off-line comment to stir into action. John Piper has been hammered for some of his comments, Bill Hybels has weathered criticism and Rob Bell is in the same world. Robin Parry, a skilled and careful scholar, wrote a book called The Evangelical Universalist. He was an editor at an evangelical publishing house. His book barely drew attention, but when Rob Bell said even less than Parry, Bell was scorched by many.
Third, tribalism pervades the American religious scene…
An assortment of nine Catholic Bishops scored nine covers (the last in 1966), and of course eight Popes have worn the red frame more thirty-three times. Throw in some stray renewal movements, missionaries, reformers, etc., and the total number of pastoral cover stories grows to about fifty in eighty-eight years.
In case you’re keeping score, that’s about 1% of the nearly 5,000 Time cover stories in history, so we are talking about some very elite pastoral company. I mean, even Jesus has made only 18 cover stories (so far), and he’s often had to share them with his Mom!
Now Rob Bell has done it! Time’s Holy Week edition (dated 4/25) is on news stands everywhere: complete with a cover story entitled, “What if There’s No Hell? A Popular pastors best-selling book has stirred fierce debate about sin, salvation and judgment.” Okay, like a pastoral Roger Maris, Bell has done it with an asterisk, because neither his NAME nor his PHOTO make the cover. Still, it is quite a fete.
You would think that evangelicals would be dancing with glee (the emotion, not the television show) over this latest public relations coup.
Still, there are at least a few cooler heads who are contributing to a more nuanced conversation. Here are three new contributions to the dialogue One more “pro”, one more “con,” and a third more “mixed,” that might help you make up your own mind on the issues… but please don’t decide until after you read the book!
…The standard Christian view of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is summed up in the Gospel of John, which promises “eternal life” to “whosoever believeth in Him.” Traditionally, the key is the acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God, who, in the words of the ancient creed, “for us and for our salvation came down from heaven … and was made man.” In the Evangelical ethos, one either accepts this and goes to heaven or refuses and goes to hell.
Bell, a tall, 40-year-old son of a Michigan federal judge, begs to differ. He suggests that the redemptive work of Jesus may be universal — meaning that, as his book’s subtitle puts it, “every person who ever lived” could have a place in heaven, whatever that turns out to be.
Such a simple premise, but with Easter at hand, this slim, lively book has ignited a new holy war in Christian circles and beyond. When word of Love Wins reached the Internet, one conservative Evangelical pastor, John Piper, tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell,” unilaterally attempting to evict Bell from the Evangelical community. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says Bell’s book is “theologically disastrous. Any of us should be concerned when a matter of theological importance is played with in a subversive way.” In North Carolina, a young pastor was fired by his church for endorsing the book.
The traditionalist reaction is understandable, for Bell’s arguments about heaven and hell raise doubts about the core of the Evangelical worldview, changing the common understanding of salvation so much that Christianity becomes more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelation. “When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world,” says Mohler, “then you don’t need the church, and you don’t need Christ, and you don’t need the cross. This is the tragedy of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism, and it’s Rob Bell’s tragedy in this book too.”
Particularly galling to conservative Christian critics is that Love Wins is not an attack from outside the walls of the Evangelical city but a mutiny from within — a rebellion led by a charismatic, popular and savvy pastor with a following. Is Bell’s Christianity — less judgmental, more fluid, open to questioning the most ancient of assumptions — on an inexorable rise? “I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian,” Bell says. “Something new is in the air.”
5) Today we will examine what Rob Bell says about hell.
Chapter 3 in his book is surely one of the most controversial chapters and that means I will have to sketch what he says before I offer my own critique and raise some questions for conversation. Up to this point Bell’s book has been at best mildly controversial; from this point on his controversial points come to the surface.
Bell makes five points about hell, organized by how the Bible talks about hell. First, the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) where we find the term Sheol [pit, underworld, etc]. “The Hebrew commentary on what happens after a person dies isn’t very articulated or defined … a bit vague and ‘underworldly’” (67).
Second, Gehenna. He opts for the flippant hell = garbage dump, yes I believe in hell, I believe my garbage goes somewhere. Gehenna is the “town garbage pile.” [Rob’s just wrong here and I’ll get to that below. Also, rule #1 about hell: never be flippant.] Tartarus and Hades. Both are Greek words for the underworld, more or less Jewish substitutes for Sheol.“And that’s it.”
6) Rob Bell is not a universalist, and he can’t be if he is as committed to freedom as he says. Now to explain…
The chapter is titled and begins with this question: Does God get what God wants? Of course, this all depends on what “wants” means, and Rob narrows God’s “wants” to his desire, found in 1 Timothy 2:3-4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”Others might define God’s “wants” in ways that permit other factors, but this is Rob’s book and this is what he focuses on. He asks some almost facetious questions – like “How great is God?” – meaning is God great if he doesn’t get what he wants and what he wants is the salvation of all. By Rob’s own logic, though, and this needs to be listened to, as this chapter unfolds God doesn’t necessarily get what he “wants”.
Bell opens up the universalism question here, which means that all humans — every last one of them in the past, present and future — will in the end be saved. He quotes passages in the Bible that have both “gospel going to all people” and reconciliation of all themes. The verses can’t be denied. Colossians 1 can’t be ignored: “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” But that’s not the end for Rob Bell in this chapter…
…As Bell has it, one job of the community that might rightly be called “church” is that of a clarifying, lyricizing, parabling stewardship concerning the mystery of God’s redeeming presence in the world. In this sense, the church names the people who “name, honor, and orient themselves around this mystery. A church is a community of people who enact specific rituals and create specific experiences to keep this word alive in their own hearts, a gathering of believers who help provide language and symbols and experiences for this mystery.”[ii]
In my own witnessing work, I was stuck (or in danger of being stuck) in what Bell terms “an entrance understanding of the gospel” which views it “primarily in terms of entrance rather than joyous participation.”[iii] To remain there is to hold to and, more tragically, embody that “cheap view of the world” that is born of “a cheap view of God.” While there is for some, perhaps inevitably, a developmental stage of this kind in religious formation, it can become what Bell deems “a shriveled imagination.” He observes that “An entrance understanding of the gospel rarely creates good art. Or innovation.”
…against Bell’s critics who could perhaps be forgiven a little for confusing Bell’s advertising for his text, it seems to me that Love Wins is committed to sustaining, clarifying and elaborating upon this pinch. As Bell has it, the question of life’s meaning, its lasting significance, is at the heart of Jesus’ famous exchange with the rich young ruler. How does one “enter life?” Keep the commandments. Bell focuses the conversation: “Another way of saying ‘life in the age to come’ in Jesus’s day was to say ‘eternal life.’ In Hebrew the phrase is olam habah….What must I do to inherit olam habah?…This age, and the one to come, the one after this one.”[iv] Or as he puts it in what I hope might prove to be the book’s most popular soundbite, “Here is the new there.”[v]
Judgment, the decision to be made, the alive and signaling, evangelical pinch isn’t to be deferred. It’s now. Or as Modest Mouse famously puts it, “If you wasted this life, why wouldn’t you waste the afterlife?” Life in the age to come is as inescapably social and ethically laden as this one, only moreso. With Jesus’ counsel to the young man to sell everything he has and give to the poor, we’re given a vision of here and there which is anything but neutral (economically, politically, what have you). “Heaven also confronts. Heaven, we learn, has teeth, flames, edges, and sharp points. What Jesus is insisting with the rich man is that certain things will not survive in the age to come.”[vi]
“Christians are routinely taught by example and word that it is more important to be right than to be Christlike. In fact, being right licenses you to be mean, indeed, requires you to be mean.”
-Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart
So many people have asked Sue and I to weigh-in on the Rob Bell’s Love Wins debate that we finally broke our mini-protest against the over-hyping of the book and bought a copy. We just finished reading it and (assuming we conclude that we actually have anything new to say) we will probably post some thoughts soon. (For some of our initial thoughts, see, Love Wins? The Irony of the Rob Bell Controversy)
Today, I thought I’d give you an update on the controversy itself…
Perhaps, we really should call the Love Wins controversy, “Cyberspace Wins.” The Christian community’s current Bellapalooza is the first evangelical doctrinal debate in history to occur nearly exclusively on the Internet. The printing presses that launched the Reformation are silent. No books, no tracts, no pamphlets, no (print) magazines. Perhaps a few print newspaper articles, but that’s it. (With the notable exception of Bell’s publisher.)
Yet, a Google search of “love wins”+”rob bell” nets over 400,000 responses (and counting), and the book hasn’t even been out for a month!
This development is as unprecedented as it is expected. We all knew that we would get to this point eventually, but what do we do now? No matter who wins the theological debate, this is a very important watershed in church history. Where will the advent of cyber-theology take us in the future? No one knows for sure.
What we do know from this first round of cyber-theology is one very painful truth: “Meanness Wins!” Nearly a decade ago (2002), USC professor and spiritual formation expert Dallas Willard warned us that civility was near an all-time low in American church history:
“Why are Christians so mean? Well, there actually is an answer to that question. And we must face this answer and effectively deal with it or Satan will sustain his stranglehold on spiritual transformation… Christians are routinely taught by example and word that it is more important to be right… than to be Christlike. In fact, being right licenses you to be mean, indeed, requires you to be mean–righteously mean, of course.” 
The advent of Internet culture has only made things worse. I thought sports radio was venomous… then I started reading blog posts on Love Wins. Wow! Talk about caustic! The boastful, arrogant, angry toxicity in some of these posts would make the coarsest Packers fan blush!
I am not saying that the issues are unimportant, or that we that shouldn’t show some passion. But shouldn’t we also show some grace? 
A Modest Proposal for the Future of Cyber-Theology
I seem to recall the apostle Paul warning the Corinthians about the danger of “fathoming all mysteries and all knowledge” only to become nothing more than a “noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal.” No matter how worked up Paul got about an issue (have you read Galatians?) he was determined to make sure that his “blog posts” (isn’t that what an epistle is?) actually “edified” those who read them.
So in honor of the church’s first “blogging” superstar, I would like to make a modest proposal: From this time forward let no blogger ever press “send” for any post on any topic without first utilizing the “Saint Paul’s Blogging Checklist” provided below.
SAINT PAUL’S BLOGGING CHECKLIST: Do not press “send” until your blog post scores 5 out of 5 on the first set of questions, and zero out of 5 on the second.
Is this post? (1) Patient (2) Kind (3) Free from envy (4) Devoid of boasting (5) Stripped of arrogance
Or is this post? (6) Rude (7) Self-seeking (8) Angry (9) Unforgiving (10) Believing/assuming the worst about others
Of course, bloggers in a hurry (and bloggers are always in a hurry) could simply refer to Jesus’ simpler one-step appraisal tool: “Is this blog post written with the love and fairness that I would want a fellow blogger to use in writing about me?”
It may sound trite, but it is nearly impossible to imagine what a God honoring breath of fresh air such practices might bring to the future cyber-theology. 
Most Exemplary Rob Bell / Love Wins Posts so Far
Sue and I have collected some of the best posts we’ve found for balancing truth and love. They range from Bell enthusiasts to Bell critics, but for the most part these authors have explored the issues involved in an even-handed and compassionate manner. Of course we have not read all 400,000 Google hits (who could?). So if you’ve read other pieces you think we should take a look at, please let us know.
Posts on what the current controversy reveals about Christian-Christian relationships in high-tech world:
 I am not saying that there is never a time to call a group of hypocrites a “brood of vipers” (Luke 3:7), or “white-washed tombs” (Matthew 23:27), nor even to wish aloud that stubborn religionists would “emasculate themselves” (Galatians 5:12), but that is always at the end of a very long conversation, not in the first month of a theological debate.
 It wouldn’t hurt if Rob Bell led the way in this project by refraining from his own favorite version of “mean”–mocking positions he disagrees with instead of respectfully rebutting them.
In their new stunning book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, a book that uses an ancient genre — the academic jeremiad — with exquisite accuracy, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa prove — not contend — that students are not learning what they should, professors are not doing all they could, administrators are not focused on education enough and, as if that weren’t a glassful, society is and will continue to suffer is something isn’t done about it.
This will have to be a series, and I am asking for your observations as we march through some of these themes, so today I want to sketch their four-fold areas of concern. Before I do that, though, I want to emphasize that we are talking degrees here and not either/or. It is easy to criticize educators and it is far easier to do so than to do something about it that improves the situation. I consider what I do to be a privilege and I love my students — well, most of them. This book focuses on problems in order to foster change and improvement.
Do you see these concerns? Any others?
So, now, on to the areas of concern:
First, students. Here is a set of facts: From the 1920s to the 1960s full-time college/university students spent approximately 40 hours in academic pursuits — classes and study. Today the students spend 27 hours. That means about 13 hours a week studying. Prior to the 60s it was about 25 hours.
This diminution of time has resulted in no appreciative change in grade point average or upon progress toward completion of the degree.
Second, professors. The major shift has been toward “if you leave me alone I will leave you alone” posture. The big issues here are these: professors have increasingly been asked to spend more time on non-academic, non-teaching activities, have not been compensated sufficiently, and are increasingly more stimulated by and interested in research. Part of this is financial, but another part is the publication is seen as the #1 most important element of both recognition and promotion. Professors are therefore distracted from teaching — by their research, by committee work, by added responsibilities… Faculty spend about 11 hours on academic tasks like teaching and advising, and the rest of their time is spent on other things, often nonacademic institutional tasks. Many profs I know have to scramble to find time for research. The result is that less time is spent with students than one might think.
I add an observation: I find three kinds of professors. Some are research-oriented and scramble and work for time to do that research; some are much more focused on teaching and student interaction; and others seem more interested in the politics of the institution and work their way into administrative posts or into influence with the Senate or somehow shaping the institution itself.
Third, administrators. Their studies show that administrators too are distracted just as much, if not more, from the academic task of education to other things — like support staff, review, and raising funds. They call what has happened here over time ” nonacademic professionalization.” The Admin task is often concerned with the many facets of the school — like sports teams, community service projects, campus enhancement and alumni loyalty.
Fourth, education itself. This can be reduced to a simplicity that is accurate: the university/college has shifted in emphasis from preparing students for moral and civic lives of virtue to professional employability. Students increasingly see education as an instrument to get them to the next phase of life and less as a place of formation.
The most significant book on higher education written in recent years is out,Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia. While I have not read every word of this new University of Chicago Press book, I have read enough of it and an accompanying summary to know that it is very, very important, and extremely devastating in what it says about American higher education today. Basically, students study little and, as a consequence, learn little.
Arum and Roksa wed data from two very important but underutilized test instruments, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). These instruments are used at hundreds of schools, and the Arum and Roksa book is based on detailed results from a good sized sample of students from 29 institutions. The CLA measures things such as aptitude with respect to critical learning and writing skills, while the NSSE mostly measures how students are engaged at school, in large part measured by how they use their time.
For the reader not familiar with some of the findings, Arum and Roksa conclude:
“gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills (i.e., general collegiate skills) are either exceedingly small or empirically non-existent for a large proportion of students”;
36 percent of students experienced no significant improvement in learning (as measured by the CLA) over four years of schooling;
less than one-half of seniors had completed over 20 pages of writing for a course in the prior semester;
total time spent in academic pursuits is 16 percent; students are academically engaged, typically, well under 30 hours per week;
scholarship from earlier decades suggest there has been a sharp decline in both academic work effort and learning;
“students…majoring in traditional liberal-arts fields…demonstrated significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study. Students majoring in business, education, social work , and communications had the lowest measurable gains”;
35 percent of the students sampled spent five hours or less a week studying alone; the average for all students was under 9 hours.
Critics will no doubt argue that the CLA is an imperfect test instrument or that the sample of schools was too small and unrepresentative. What strikes me most, however, is that these findings are similar to those found in other studies (e.g. the Time Use Survey of the Bureau of Labor Statistics), and with my own personal observations based on a half century of involvement in higher education in all types of institutions ranging from mid-quality state universities to elite private liberal-arts colleges and prestigious private research institutions.
Moreover, the survey seems to confirm that many of the modern-day trends in higher education have
lowered the quality of the educational experience…
It’s hard to believe that Two Handed Warriors has only been up and running for two months. I cannot thank you enough for all the encouragement and support.
I started the blog in hope of fostering an ongoing conversation for professionals committed to both culture making and faith building. You have exceeded my wildest dreams. Conversations have evoked marvelous responses from audiences as diverse as Ivy League professors, Hollywood executive producers, seminary deans, college students, pastors, student development professionals, campus ministers, film and television writers. Thank you!
Bottom line: Paparazzi really seemed to hit a nerve. It turns out that there is a great deal of angst out there regarding how to maximize the potentialities of the electronic age without being drawn into the “dark side” of self-promotion. So this January I’ll be posting on ongoing series on Servant Leadership in an Age of Celebrity in hopes of teasing out the issues involved. (Watch for the first post, “Lost” Lessons of Leadership: Sawyer, Jack and the Power of Gun, next week.)
I would love your feedback and questions in order to shape the conversation and explore if it is worthy of a future book project. (I SO appreciate all the emails directly to me, but if you could find it in your heart to post comments on the site it would help foster a broader conversation.)
Thank you again for letting me into your head over the past 60 days. Lord willing, it is the beginning of a genuine community of two handed warriors in Hollywood, the Ivy League and beyond.
Happy New Year!
PS Special thanks to Identity Specialist, Lem Usita, as well as to Jon Stanley and the staff of THE OTHER JOURNAL for all their help in conceiving and lauching this project. Thank you to Chris Easterly, Kathy Bruner, Shun Lee Fong, David McFadzean, David Ridder, Dennis Ingolfsand, Peter Kapsner, Rich Gathro, Jack Gilbert, Clyde Taber, Brennan Smith, Jim Hull, John David Ware, Robb Kelley, Todd Burns, Bob Cornero, Tom Provost, Carol Shell Harris, and Michael Warren for helping get the conversation started. Thank you also to Scot McKnight, Key Payton, Keri Lowe, David Medders, McCoy Tyner, Ralph Enlow, and Ken Minkema, for their personal encouragement, professional input, and help in getting the word out. I never could have made it without you all!